Remington Under Fire

States join objections to Remington rifle settlement

A shooter takes aim with a Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle at the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Joel Page | Reuters

Attorneys general from nine states and the District of Columbia are urging a federal judge to reject a proposed class action settlement involving millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles including the iconic Model 700, saying the agreement "fails to adequately protect public safety."

The 38-page filing, which alleges that Remington has "long known" that the guns can fire without the trigger being pulled, comes less than one month before U.S.District Judge Ortrie Smith in Kansas City is scheduled to consider final approval of the settlement in which Remington has agreed to replace the triggers on most of the 7.5 million guns in question.

But the attorneys general, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on behalf of her counterparts in Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New York,Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia,say the judge should reject the agreement because it does not adequately warn the public of the danger they say the guns pose.

"A firearm that fires a bullet without the trigger being pulled is perhaps the quintessential example of a dangerously unsafe product," the filing says.

But in settlement notifications to the public and on a special settlement web site, Remington's denial of any problem is prominent. The attorneys general say that could lull gun owners into complacency.

"The notices fail to convey that correction of the defect is urgent or that failure to replace the trigger could have life-threatening consequences," the filing says.

Attorneys for Remington and class action plaintiffs did not respond to e-mails seeking a comment, but Remington has steadfastly maintained that the guns are safe and free of defects, and that lawsuits linking the alleged defect to at least two-dozen deaths are without merit. The company has said it is seeking to settle the class action case now to avoid "protracted litigation."

CNBC first reported in 2010 about allegations, which Remington has denied, that the company covered up the alleged defect since before the trigger design went on the market in the 1940s. The original CNBC investigation and a 2015 follow-up report are cited in the states' filing.

Remington hits back at rifle settlement critics

In a separate filing Tuesday,attorneys for class action plaintiffs, who stand to collect $12.5 million in fees if the settlement is approved, defended Remington's continued denials.

"The fact is that defendants in product liability class actions, defendants in general for that matter, deny liability," wrote attorney Eric Holland. "And while an admission of guilt would be welcomed, Remington does not, and will not, accept that its products are defective."

But the states say Remington's own internal documents prove the company knows otherwise.

"The substantial number of documented incidents of Remington rifles inadvertently firing without a trigger pull places Remington under an obligation to warn rifle users of the potential for harm," the filing says.

The attorneys general say one of the main reasons the settlement notice falls short is that it does not describe what can happen if the guns malfunction. By contrast, the federal Consumer Product Safety Act—which does not apply to guns, but which the filing says is "instructive"—requires that consumers can readily identify the "risks and potential injuries or deaths associated with the product conditions."

Judge Smith has already raised multiple concerns about the proposed settlement. In December of 2015, he sent the parties back to the drawing board after learning that only about 2,300 gun owners had filed claims to have their guns repaired.

Since then, the parties have stepped up their campaign to notify the public about the trigger replacement offer,adding radio commercials and notices on social media. As of Friday, according to a court filing, more than 19,000 customers have responded out of 7.5 million guns sold.

Judge Smith has given the parties until next Tuesday to respond to the states' filing.